The Antarctic is the coldest, driest and highest continent on Earth. Larger than China or the USA, it contains most of the freshwater on planet Earth, locked in a massive ice sheet several kilometres thick.
BGS scientists, in conjunction with the Natural History Museum, London, the British Antarctic Survey, and the University of Leicester, are working on fossil material from the northern Weddell Sea region to the east of the Antarctic Peninsula to try and reconstruct climate conditions during a warm interval nearly five million years ago. The scientists can use the signals locked in fossil shells to reconstruct sea temperatures and even estimate the presence or absence of sea ice in the region.
The Antarctic Peninsula region has seen surface temperatures rise by 3°C since the 1950s making it one of the regions of most rapid warming on planet Earth. It is therefore essential to look at the climate record of past warm intervals in this region to give us a sense of what might happen in the future. In this sense, we use the 'past as a key to the future'.